I thought I’d share some of my impressions of some of the papers I attended.
The conference featured seven plenary addresses, which everyone attended, and three groups of concurrent session. I’ve recounted now, and I guess I only heard 16 papers in all (counting my own), not 19 as I had thought. I don’t have comments on all of them, as sometimes one cannot help but daydream from time to time.
Two of the plenary addresses, Reginster’s and Poellner’s, did not have much impact on me. I’m sure it’s my fault: I was jet-lagged, and even if I hadn’t been, my mind tends toward broad and shallow, and their papers were focusing fairly narrowly and deeply on topics that don’t interest me much. Reginster was documenting Nz’s account in GM about how the Christian sense of guilt emerges from a more basic, everyday sense of guilt. One key point that I found interesting is that Reginster claimed Nz wasn’t really interested in providing a more general account of how guilt arises in the first place; rather, he was interested in a diagnosis of the Christian variety of guilt — that is, Nz was more interested in pathology than reduction. That seems right.
Poellner’s paper was concerned with understanding the precise sense in which the hatred giving rise to slave morality could be in any sense unconscious. Actually, Poellner was arguing that hatred simply can’t be unconscious; instead, it must be conscious, but the slaves are engaged in loads of self-deception about it. Okay.
I’ll mention two other concurrent session papers for now. Lawrence Hatab focused on the importance of language for self-consciousness, and a puzzling remark of Nz’s, that “man thinks without knowing it.” The upshot, I think, is that a lot of our thinking is done for us, by our language communities, and by the time our consciousness comes on the scene, a lot of presuppositions are already in place. This leads to interesting questions about the ontology of individuals in Nz: basically, there can’t be any, without a community providing a deep and significant backdrop.
In the same session, Jutta Georg-Lauer probed the embodiment of consciousness in Nz. So far, Nz claims, “we have embodied only our errors.” The task is to embody something other than errors. He thinks our embodied knowledge must be enhanced, and not further abstract/conceptual knowledge: we need a different way of being in the world, to speak Heideggerianingly. Doing this means reducing the opposition of body and reason, and recognizing thoughts as shadows of the senses and reflexes. We also must devalue the notion of truth, in the sense in which we have regarded truth since Plato. We should allow for the ecstasies of “body reason,” and let the natural affinities of the body replace our marshaling our forces under the will to truth. Very provocative, I thought, though I guess I’m too will-to-truth oriented to really climb aboard that wagon.